Tuesday 11 May 2021
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Getting ‘high’ on HIV drugs

The life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs are being abused by some residents in Keetmanshoop who use the drug for smoking purposes, health officials in //Karas Region revealed.
Anti-retrovirals are used to boost the immune system of people with HIV and to suppress the virus in the blood.
Health officials in the region confirmed that the drugs are indeed abused by people who use the drugs for smoking purposes and pointed out that the situation is not unique to the Keetmanshoop only, but the entire country.
Information gathered by The Patriot during a recent visit to Keetmanshoop reveal that the drugs are being sold by patients to those who smoke it.
A source, who chose to remain anonymous, said the drugs are grounded into powder and sometimes mixed with painkillers or marijuana to enhance the effect of the drug.
“The drug is prepared by putting the pill in a cylinder similar to those used in the laboratories and then heated with a pipe placed under the cylinder,” said the source, who cautioned that the drug is so strong users may overdose,” the source said.
Narrating further, the source said: “The guys who use the drug to smoke buy it from the patients who are on antiretroviral treatment.”
“ARV is a tablet like any other, people often crush the tablet and mix it with other substances to come up with a mixture commonly known as ‘zol’ and then start smoking it,” //Karas chief health program officer Mukuve Kaveto revealed during an interview at the southern town.
“We are working with patients and the community to stop this practice. To access this medication at the hospital is very difficult, simply because such medication are safeguarded and names of patients are written on the container when they collect their medicine,” Kaveto said, warning that patients who fail to take their medication as prescribed are exposing themselves to huge risks.
Despite all these efforts, Kaveto said health officials have no control over the medication when it is in the hands of the patients.
“When the tablets are in the hands of the patients nobody has control over the medication. Patients usually have supporters who are supposed to make sure that patient takes their medication as prescribed,” he said.
Kaveto said some patients would finish their medication in just a few days and return to the health centers to get more medication, adding that: “When patients come collect medication after short intervals there is nothing we can do because they lie to the nurses that they finished their medication.”
Kaveto said the situation is not only pertinent in southern Namibia, but in other parts of the country as well.
Aids patients themselves have been found smoking the drugs instead of taking them as prescribed.
A local pharmacist, Cynthia Van Wyk said ARVs are strictly controlled and not given to anyone.
Some of the side effects include psychiatric illness which poses a threat to the central nervous system, it can also inhibit metabolism, impaired concentration, depression and psychotic-like symptoms.
When taken orally, the ARV Efavirenz does have initial side-effects including dizziness, double vision and vivid dreams, effects that have fuelled abuse of the drug in pill form in prisons in other countries.
While some are failing to use the drug for its intended purposes, government continues to spend millions to procure the drug.
Earlier this month, the State procured a 63-ton consignment of antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs from Uganda worth N$63 million.
Cemeteries in Namibia are already crowded with victims of HIV/AIDS, now a new danger is threatening to derail the country’s HIV elimination drive.
According to the World Health Organisation, more than 37 billion of the world’s population are currently living with HIV/AIDS, of which 2.6 million are children.
According to WHO,   sub-Saharan Africa is the most affected region, with 25.8 million people living with HIV in 2014. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for almost 70 percent of the global total of new HIV infections.
Since scientists discovered the deadly virus in 1983, WHO estimated that at least 34 million people have died from AIDS-related causes so far, including 1.2 million in 2014.
According to UNAIDS, in June 2015, 15.8 million people living with HIV were accessing antiretroviral therapy (ART) globally, up from 13.6 million in June 2014.
Figures provided by UNAIDS also shows that of the 36.9 million people living with HIV globally, 17.1%(630 000) do not know they have the virus.

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